Boston Red Sox need more from the bottom of their lineup

The Red Sox in 2022 were and should be a team that can serve well from time to time but really needs to lean consistently on their offense if they want to make room in the American League, and the American League in particular that weighed on them American League East. However, early in the season they were mediocre on the plate at best, ranking squarely in the middle of the league in terms of runs scored and on the verge of the bottom third in OPS, while sitting near the bottom of the league in OBP. One of their problems, as Jen McCaffrey recently pointed out at The Athletic, is that they were an all-or-nothing group, either scoring multiple goals or bringing nothing over the table. Some of that is small sample size noise, of course, and players like Trevor Story who haven’t gotten started will hit more, but there’s more to it than that.

A big part of these frustrating missed opportunities is that the top of the Order mostly does its job of setting the table for rallies, but there’s also an issue with the roster construction here. We knew the Red Sox would have some questions about their top players in the lineup, with guys like Alex Verdugo, Christian Vázquez and Jackie Bradley Jr. trying to bounce back from relatively bad years – Verdugo’s 2021 was that least worrying group and he came out of the gates red hot – while Bobby Dalbec wanted to show his second-half production can carry over to some extent into the 2022 season. Throw in a bench that doesn’t inspire much confidence and it takes the Red Sox a lot to run properly for this group to produce.

Well, 11 games into the season and the bottom group is one of the worst groups in all of baseball. That’s not an exaggeration either. Using Baseball-Reference’s Stathead tool, we can compare the bottom third of Boston’s lineup to any other group in the league, and they have the second in common worst OPS throughout baseball. Only the Diamondbacks were worse in their roster, finishing seventh through ninth, and it’s an Arizona team that honestly doesn’t really try to win baseball games. Baseball-Reference also has a metric called tOPS+ that compares a given split to a player or team’s totals, and in this case, the bottom third of the Red Sox’s roster is the absolute worst in all of baseball compared to the rest of their roster.

Again, we’re talking about 11 games, so all of this is still very much under the umbrella of the small sample size, but if there was any expectation that this might happen before any games were played, there must be some concern. And it’s not hard to see where this problem might rear its ugly head. One through six, the Red Sox are among the best teams in baseball, ranking eighth for both first and second and third through sixth places in the lineup, according to OPS.

But eventually these rallies hit the last three points and get killed like they did on Tuesday night. Overall, the bottom third of the lineup went 8-0 in the win over the Blue Jays, leaving nine runners on base. Heck, even in the eighth inning, when that group single-handedly gave the Red Sox the lead, they did so largely thanks to an error by Bo Bichette that put Dalbec, the inning’s leading hitter, in second place. He was brought home after two productive outs moved him up a base each time. Well, it’s thanks to Bradley and Connor Wong that they put the ball in play and hit it in the right spots to keep the runners moving, but that’s not exactly a sustainable run-scoring strategy.

So what is the solution to this? In the short term, just hope it’s mostly small sample-size noise that will even out over the course of the season, and at least there is something optimism for it. Dalbec isn’t running, but he’s doing a decent job when it comes to dropping places outside the zone, at least compared to the first half of last season. Bradley is actually hitting some good bats and is slightly above average on the season. He often goes the other way, which is usually a sign that he’s feeling good about the plate. Vázquez hit a home run just before the COVID IL, hopefully a sign he’s ready to turn things around with the bat.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

But really, it’s the bench that looks like the biggest problem and the solution seems to be to shuffle things around and hope they can weather this storm until some potential Worcester players can show up. Triston Casas should step up this summer, replacing Travis Shaw and potentially taking a lot of punches from Dalbec. The latter is a bench upgrade over Shaw and the hope is Casas will be ready to improve the starting lineup from the jump. Hopefully, if Bradley catches another cold spell, Jarren Duran will show his off-season adjustments are bearing fruit and be ready for another leap into the majors by replacing someone like Rob Refsnyder (who has yet to play in the majors , but in triple A) or Jonathan Arauz. We’re seeing two young catchers on the list right now amid the team’s COVID woes, and perhaps one of Connor Wong or Ronaldo Hernández will move up to a bank role and extend that bank sometime this summer.

Whatever the case, the Red Sox need to change something here, whether it’s simply improving the guys who are already here or new faces making an impression. The top two-thirds of this lineup is good enough to get runs on the board and give that team a puncher chance against any team, but only if the bottom third does enough to at least not kill everything their rallies. That hasn’t quite happened yet, and it shows in the team’s overall offensive numbers.

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